NEW ORLEANS - Thousands of Gulf Coast hurricane victims who have missed deadline after deadline to leave their federal housing are being offered additional help and the chance to buy trailers for as little as $1 as the government seeks to avoid mass evictions.
For weeks, officials have warned people displaced by Katrina and Rita in 2005 that their federally supplied trailers and mobile homes might be repossessed if they stay.
Instead, the Obama administration said yesterday that the federal government would offer $50 million in new housing vouchers and give residents the option of buying their units if they meet safety standards and local zoning rules.
Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Clark Stevens described it as an effort to "responsibly close out the agency's temporary housing mission."
About 3,300 households remain in federally supplied trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, down from a high of 143,000 after the storms.
Residents previously had the option to buy their trailers and mobile homes - smaller travel trailers were excluded - but now the government is offering the units at rock-bottom prices to alleviate any cost concerns and help those who are undecided to make up their minds.
Jacqueline Frederick, who was fighting back tears last week as the deadline to leave her mobile home in southeast Louisiana approached, gasped when she heard about the reprieve. Her husband, Anthony, was more skeptical, given the couple's difficulty in securing subsidized housing.
"They've made so many promises," he said. "I won't believe anything until something happens."
FEMA says more than $7.8 billion has been spent on housing and other aid for about 2.4 million storm-affected people and households since the hurricanes.
Separately, federal officials might use foreclosed homes as temporary housing for hurricane evacuees in Florida as soon as this summer. FEMA said it might consider using foreclosed homes if hotels, shelters, and other housing options were full. The idea was discussed at a hurricane drill this week in Florida.